An Appeal to Reason at 1537 South Wilton Pl.

Let’s say you’re living peacefully in your vintage home on your block of gracious low-slung craftsmans when some developer decides to tear down the house next door to put in something grossly out-of-scale. You’re shocked that it will block light and air and views and ruin parking and cause noise and destroy the historic fabric of your neighborhood and the whole magilla. Surely you can lay out your concerns to the Powers That Be in the form of an appeal to which they’ll listen thoughtfully and say, My God, You’re Right. Maybe in this case we shouldn’t worship at the altar of Scott Wiener and fall in lockstep with the abjuration of zoning ordinances.

Or, the City might tell you to go screw.

Take for example 1537 South Wilton Place. It was built in 1905 and designed by Charles F. Whittlesey. The F is for Effing, because this house was designed by CHARLES EFFING WHITTLESEY.

That’s quite the cross-gable! Dig those rafter tails, the balconette railings, and that Swiss Chalet balcony. Check out the flare wingwall!
An older Google StreetView shot when it was painted slightly differently. Before the nice new owners who bought the house in mid-2018 let the lawn die.
Lookit that door. And those stained-glass transom windows will emit a satisfying crunch come the bulldozer.
The Staff Response to the neighborhood appeal was, and I’m not kidding, that the block does not have uniform character in regards to height and scale. Compare the above two images with what the developer is building. Yeeeesss, Director of Planning Vincent P. Bertoni, the block is just FULL of five-story cubes all OVER the damn place.

So, demolish the hell out of the Whittlesey, and in its place, Gabriel and Tomer Fedida propose building this five-story, fifty-five-foot, twenty-one unit, 22,313 square foot apartment complex. The City is awarding them a collection of zoning variances, allowing the Fedidas to build eleven feet higher than permitted by law; decreasing the side yard requirement 25%; and giving them a 20% decrease in the open space requirement.

As rendered Micheal Ko of KSK Design

So the neighbors approached the City and said, hey, we’re filing an appeal, in that there’s a few problems here. They pointed out that the South Los Angeles Community Plan Design Guidelines/Citywide Residential Design Guidelines require new developments to respect the scale and architecture and identity of the surrounding historic neighborhood, especially as this neighborhood falls under the Character Residential Overlay as implemented by the City Council to protect the historic neighborhoods in South Los Angeles. Plus the developer screwed up the math on the TOC Incentives, getting them all kinds of wrong, as further miscalculated by City staff. And you can’t just make the project vested for land use entitlements and CEQA exempt because you feel like it. And so on.

And to all of this the City replied. They replied well, you say your neighborhood has a certain character, but we say your neighborhood has all sorts of weird buildings, so stop worrying about it, and so as to you and your Citywide Design Guidelines, we dismiss your concerns utterly. For example, when you say two stories is the prevailing height on the block, we reply with, basically, sure, true, but so what (and implying as well, you terrible people, if we don’t hand the developers the extra height then the project won’t “pencil out” and then how, oh how can we have those two whole low-income units?). Oh, and all that stuff about entitlements and TOC? Well, don’t even try to argue TOC. It’s TOC, man.

But, said the Department of City Planning’s City Planning Commission, we do agree that neither the developers nor us gave one piddling iota of thought or care as to whether 1537 might be a potential historic resource, so tell ya what, we will hire some real live architects, Kaplan Chen Kaplan, to do a Historic Resource Evaluation Report on this here Whittlesey house.

KCK came back and said the Whittlesey house was absolute worthless crap, devoid of all merit in every conceivable way. KCK’s report was some 100+ pages and, since they bill on average at $200/hour, I can assure you, was not cheap. Your tax dollars at work! For example, KCK hired an RPA Certified Archaeologist to check records, which is the like hunting mosquitos with an elephant gun; that’s the kind of work you give to the unpaid intern and they do all of it on their lunchbreak. It’s the elemental gruntwork I save for when I’m hungover and do in half my lunchbreak.

KCK’s report was written primarily by “historic consultant” Pam O’Connor, whom you specifically hire when you want to make sure something is described as “unworthy of preservation.” When Mayor of Santa Monica, she fought to remove landmark status and tear down landmarks. O’Connor is best known as the only Santa Monica council member to lobby against Millard Sheets. Look at these Late Moderne and Modern buildings on North Central in Glendale. Does O’Connor understand them at all? No, she does not. (Or maybe she secretly does, but still has to recommend their destruction, because that’s her damn job.)

In any event, some snorty guffaws and one Very Expensive and Useless Study later, and the City sat down to thoughtfully consider the neighborhood’s appeal. Which is precisely why they own a comically oversized rubber DENIED stamp they use to pound upon appeals with an embarrassingly ebullient and theatrical flourish.

One more shot—check out the neighbor to its immediate south. 1543 was designed by the great Edward Butler Rust, who we discussed here
Ok, another one more shot. 1517, two doors north, here in the Crenshaw Heights tract, built by George Crenshaw in 1910 as the home of Loren Crenshaw. Yep, nothin’ historic around here.

10912 West Blix St., No. Hollywood

Up in the Valley there’s an indication as to how we used to live. Low slung structures, lots of open space. Cool shade from the towering trees. This is, of course, a rare, precious, disappearing commodity.

In the autumn of 1939 a fellow named P. N. Morgan designed and built a twelve-room, four family residential structure just off Lankershim in North Hollywood, at 10912 Blix. Then, a chap named W. Charles Swett saw what Morgan did, and liked it so much that in the spring of 1940 he pulled permits to put up one very much like it on the adjoining property at 10916, hiring engineer/architect Edward Rudolph to design another one-story, twelve-room four-unit.

Look how nicely the two work together. See how they form a sort of allée, passing through a planted boscage.

10912, left; 10916, right

Needless to say, 19012 was marketed as a development opportunity:

Yeah, you market those condos to the Warner employees.

And the lot, being 57×170, is going to lose any vestige of open space to absorb a five-story, eighteen-unit structure:

Here’s an overhead—that tree canopy is about as dense a green spot as you’ll ever find that close to Lankershim.

Sorry to see them go. But at least we can revel in the irony that it’s the people who yell loudest about climate change are also those who yell loudest about building more housing. Sweet, sweet irony.

And yet… The footprint of the four-unit structure now is 41×80. Were Boyajian & Co. to build on that same footprint, with three stories of four units and two stores of three, up five stories, well, there’s your eighteen units, with trees left intact, and—

Oh wait nevermind, I just found the rendering for the thing. I was right, it eats up every inch:

By the way, proving again that architects always…improve…when making their renderings, it should be noted that in some weird attempt to ameliorate the fact their client is ripping out a whole bunch of mature trees, they’ve invented a bunch of trees for the rendering. Literally none of the trees on the surrounding properties actually exist. Neither does that nice fence, which in reality is chain link, behind which there are no crepe myrtles. They also took out a telephone pole and apparently added an encroaching red tile-roofed structure? I bet those ladies are Warner employees, too.

1138 Wilshire Blvd.

Over in Mid-City, on Wilshire Boulevard near the corner of Lucas Street, there’s an unassuming Late Moderne commercial structure. It was built in the fall of 1951, of precast concrete construction, designed by the architectural firm of McClellan, MacDonald & Markwith, its principal designer being Jack H. MacDonald. Construction was by Buttress & McClellan.

So, as you might imagine, it and its corner neighbors are due to be replaced by a Newport Beach development concern called PacTen Partners (so named because its partners were all athletes at PacTen universities) with 140 luxury condominiums. PacTen have secured financing “from an overseas capital source,” and hired KTGY to design the TOC-benefitting, 185-foot tower.

You know, I hear you say, I don’t, like, get this building. Perhaps it’s not the easiest building in the world to love. But I bet I know who does love it! That nutburger over on Skyscraperpage who kept posting about Jack MacDonald a while back. Who kept going on and on and on and putting up picture after picture after picture of MacDonald-designed Mid-Century commercial buildings. God, what a weirdo.

What I find most charming about this rendering is that they—evidently—intend to remove the “Wilshire Special” streetlamp.

Here’s something else I find pretty amusing. See 1138’s neighbor, the goofy-looking putty-colored 1980s thing? That structure, 1140/50 Wilshire was, in fact, built in 1904. It had a stucco job in 1984:

1140/50 Wilshire was built back when Wilshire Blvd. was still known as Orange Street. Image from the Laskey Collection at LAPL.

Taix and the City

So you may remember my “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Taix* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” post from September.

Of course, since you read this blog, you’ve probably already seen the recently-released renderings of Taix’s forthcoming replacement, but I would be remiss in my duties were I not to make mention of them here.

So. Remember what I said in September’s post about how you’d have to have a dead soul to not be charmed by Taix’s faux-French village vernacular? Well, you’d have to be born with no soul to love this:

A magical pairing of dirty stucco and mustard-beige

Missed Taix? It’s over there:

No no, down there, next to my favorite shop, Retail

Now I’m not implying that the good people at Togawa-Smith-Martin have no souls. I’m sure they cast reflections in mirrors and everything. It’s just that those people who get hot for their “brown stack o’ boxes with metal parts and some balconies” style, those people I worry about.

But such people don’t exist, I hear you say, and you are correct. Even the Curbed commenters, wetting themselves with glee over the destruction of Taix, admit that this blah-dern blandmark embarrasses the lot of us. They also admit that the new Taix will not succeed; without the charm of its architecture, and the ambience of its interior, it will fail worse than the French agricultural harvest of 1788. And we all know how that turned out.

Dear Lord I fell asleep just posting a picture of it. It’s like the Colin Robinson of architecture.

What, then? Are we resigned to her destruction? Perhaps not. There is, after all, Les Amis de Taix, dedicated to her retention and preservation (their petition is here). Esotouric has a fascinating theory that Holland Group purposely turned the destruction and resurrection of Taix into a trainwreck just to sink the project, a big fat write-off as we head into an economic slowdown being, you know, better than nothing.

But, I hear you say, you can’t possibly want to stop a project like this, because housing!  Oh you and your bizarre strange-bedfellow propaganda from Billionaire Fatcat Developers and best pals Big Government Leftist Ideologues.  Who tell us how we’re to live, when they don’t even live here—Clyde Holland lives in Vancouver and Scott Wiener lives in San Francisco (ok, maybe not such strange bedfellows).  

Besides, Holland Residential is famous for illegally Airbnb’ing its units. True, this they have denied and responded by saying “well, our units are rented by corporate clients and THEY Airbnb them, not us!”  Yes, well, either way, I’m sure we have therewith ended the housing crisis, and good for all of us.

Ultimately, Taix must be destroyed because its architecture connotes “little European village.”  It positively reeks of the wholesome and virtuous.  It’s not popular to make value judgments extolling the positive aspects of European culture these days:  it’s hip as hell to hate on Europe as hard as you possibly can—well, old Europe anyway.  God forbid something as simple as some half-timbering might make you meditate on truth, beauty, devotion, tradition; all anathema to the modern world.  I’m surprised people aren’t protesting it.

And Taix has whimsy. Gads, people today sure hate whimsy. (I mean I know millennials are supposed to be a joyless bunch but enough already. Embrace whimsy, ya knuckleheads!)

Whither Taix? It’s going to be a strange and fascinating ride…as is everything in this deeply polluted world. For which I have nothing but hope. Stay tuned.

3525 South Bronson Ave.

Greetings all! Marsak here. Remember when I used to look at demo permits and blog about the structures? Good times. I’ll get back to it, I swear. I’ve been completely consumed with this book project the last few months. Big thank-you to Kim who’s been keeping the flame alive here at RIP!

But I saw this today and just had to toss it out there. There’s an Instagram page called southlabuildings, which I love, because I love South Los Angeles so damn much.

Go add them on your IG

And I love this house to an absurd degree. It was listed for sale recently. The listing read in part:

Which reads “tear this down and build a giant-ass box you crazy bastards!”

The house was listed, relisted and delisted, so who knows what’s going on with it. There is/was apparently a demo permit issued, as evidenced by this photo, though there’s nothing about the issuance of a demolition permit proper at City Planning or on ZIMAS—

Although at DBS we do have confirmation that they’ve gone through and have had their Plan Check approved, which does not bode well—

So let’s talk a bit about this house. Of course every developer from God-knows-where wants to tear it down—to build a superdense coronavirus hotbox that looks like some preteen’s Jenga tower—and, I might add, without a thought of moving it. Moving it, you say? Who does that? Well you know, it was moved here after all.

That’s right, it came from somewhere else. Figueroa south of downtown used to be full of grand homes, once upon a time (like, say, this one). And Martin Bekins’s house at 1341 South Figueroa St., built in the spring/summer of 1907, was one of them. Martin Bekins is yes, THAT Bekins. Read more about him here and here. Bekins & family stayed in the house until downtown grew up around them and in the early-mid 1920s built something larger and with more property out in Eagle Rock.

When you live in a big house on Figueroa, muckety-mucks come speak in your living room, and then you make them governor

The architect of 1341 South Figueroa was John A. Mathis. Mathis came to Los Angeles in 1885 and established the Mathis Construction Company. He built all over the southland. Below is another Mathis house; from what I can tell, it and Bronson are the sole remaining two.

2225 West Twentieth St., J. A. Mathis, 1905. This house just underwent renovation and restoration. Why can’t our friend on Bronson? C’mon Jefferson Park! Don’t let West Adams make a fool of ya!

Anyway, after Bekins moved to Eagle Rock in the mid-1920s, the spot at 1341 was needed for something else (Bekins Co. built a commercial structure on the site, which disappeared in the early 1970s, and it’s all Convention Center down there now), so the house was picked up and moved by Welte House Moving Co. in the spring of 1929, where she’s been ever since.

And there‘s a wishing well! Let’s all go toss in some coins and envision her restoration

I mean look at the old girl. Not stucco’d, the chimneys are there, all original windows, the porches haven’t been enclosed…incredible. Large corner lot. If ever a home could come back, and be a showplace and a feather in the cap of Los Angeles, it is this one.

So what say ye, Los Angeles?

The Cranky Preservationist in Reports of the Death of The White Log Coffee Shop Have Been Exaggerated (episode 26)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 26 finds Nathan and his wee pal The Los Angeles Preservation Imp at 11th & Hill, kitty corner from the Herald Examiner, at the scene of a recent fire that’s had fans of the faux log cabin diner that’s occupied the corner since 1933 worried sick.

But the diner’s designer Ken Bemis was a super genius, praised in Fortune Magazine for his “cat-like brain, which, dropped from anywhere, always lands on its feet.” The building might look like an old New England log cabin, but was in fact a patented ultra-modern fire-proof marvel, its concrete “logs” poured into versatile wall and window molds that could be reconfigured to taste, or packed up to move to a new site with ease. The fire had scarcely scorched the place.

While skipping happily around the undamaged log cabin, and letting the imp root around in the burned fixtures tossed around back, Nathan encounters a couple of interested parties, and lets loose with a little improvisational preservation advocacy.

We know it’s strange to see people walking around, coming up to talk to each other, touching their faces and so forth, yet this was our beloved Los Angeles just a month ago. And while we shelter in place and do our best to look out for one another and our beloved local landmarks from afar, there is just one ray of sunshine we can’t help but bask in: the perceived wisdom that every small, cool, historic building like the White Log Coffee Shop that sits on valuable Downtown L.A. real estate is doomed is over now. There are hard times ahead for Los Angeles, that’s certain, but we might just get to hang on to more of our landmarks. And what are we without them? Cranky, that’s what!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

The Cranky Preservationist in Don’t F— With My Bunker Hill Retaining Wall (episode 25)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 25 finds Nathan on old Bunker Hill, a once charming neighborhood of Victorian mansions turned rooming houses, wrecked in a moronic mid-century redevelopment scheme. But the development agency missed a spot, and failed to demolish the fine limestone ashlar retaining wall that was built to support John C. Austin’s Fremont Hotel (1902-1954).

And that well-built wall did what well-built walls do for 118 years, at least until some jackass spray-painted it black a few weeks back. The Cranky Preservationist public policy crew reached out to AT&T (the owner of the parking lots separated by the wall), to the graffiti abatement company under contract to the city, and to the famously recalcitrant office of Councilman Jose Huizar. Nobody cared, or expressed any interest in bringing in a skilled stone cleaning crew to strip the paint and restore the wall.

So imagine Nathan’s burning rage when he returned to at the southwest corner of Fourth and Olive Streets and discovered some well-meaning nincompoop had “cleaned up” the offending black spray paint by coating the historic stones with an additional layer of WHITE paint. You don’t have to imagine it, because Nathan’s entire temper tantrum, including calls for human rights violations and a gratuitous shout out to Teddy Roosevelt, was caught on tape. Tune in for a glimpse of a Cranky Preservationist’s dark side, and a desperate plea that the last bit of old Bunker Hill infrastructure is properly restored—before it’s too late!

For everything you ever wanted to know about lost Bunker Hill, but were afraid to ask, visit our original time travel blog and stay tuned for Nathan’s upcoming book.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

The Cranky Preservationist and the Mystery of the Shrinking HPOZ at 1330 W. Pico (aka “The Albany”) (episode 24)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 24 finds Nathan on the eastern edge of the Pico-Union Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), a charming, low-slung early 20th century neighborhood of craftsman bungalows, apartment houses, churches and mortuaries that feels a world away from the Convention Center on the other side of the 110 Freeway.

But there’s big trouble brewing on this little block, all wrapped up in a land use mystery that’s had L.A.‘s preservation community scratching its collective head.

HPOZs are supposed to be protected, with historic buildings preserved and the rare new construction respecting what’s already there. So why did Gil Cedillo, the councilman who represents this impoverished district, file a motion carving a warehouse out of the HPOZ, upzoning it for high-rise hotel use? And how did zillionaire developer Eri Kroh of Sandstone Properties anticipate that the zoning would change when he spent $42 Million to aquire the property?

It just didn’t make sense.

But that was before public records activist Adrian Riskin of the Michael Kohlhaas blog“ got interested. He recently obtained emails from Gil Cedillo’s office that reveal exactly how Sandstone hit the real estate jackpot.

The infuriating answer is that Gil Cedillo’s staff worked overtime to look after the developer, even when it meant telling the Mayor’s office to back off on discussions about turning the warehouse into much-needed homeless housing. The talking points that planning director Gerald Gubatan used when encouraging “the zealot” Ken Bernstein at City Planning to break up the HPOZ were written by Sandstone’s lobbyists. So were the City Council motions submitted by Gil Cedillo. All Cedillo had to do was whip out a pen and sign his name, and a neighborhood’s doom was sealed.

Anyone who cares about the wretched state of our beloved Los Angeles, the demolitions and tent encampments, the illegal Airbnb listings and unaffordable rents, the squandered Measure HHH housing funds, the filth and the cruelty, should read the blog post describing these emails, and possibly the emails as well.

To get a taste of how special this block is, and why it’s entirely unsuitable for the enormous tower and sign district requested by Sandstone’s lobbyists and provided by their friendly councilman, let the Cranky Preservationist take you on a tour. You’ll see beauty, surprises, sorrow and a very special slice of sidewalk along the way.

Open your eyes, friends! Terrible people are bleeding Los Angeles dry with their Sacramento-style policy savvy and lack of compassion, and some of them will retire with government pensions. They’re destroying our neighborhoods and shortening our neighbors’ lives.

But we don’t have to settle for this twisted lack of representation. The only question is how much longer will YOU stand for it?

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

The Cranky Preservationist and Friends in Save 700 Normandie Avenue, Koreatown’s Little New York Street (episode 23)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 23 finds Nathan on the 700 block of South Normandie, where his wee L.A. Preservation Imp has lured him to see the greatest interbellum street in all of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this gorgeous landscape of elegant apartment houses, one of the most popular filming locations in town, is currently threatened by an enormous modern tower by Koreeatown mega-developers Jamison Properties. Only landlords, and none of the thousands of people who rent in the neighborhood, were notified of Jamison’s plans.

Discovering the fast-tracked project when it was nearly a done deal, longtime residents Carolyn Zanelli‎ and Spencer Jones filed a CEQA challenge. When their councilman, Herb Wesson, refused to meet, neighbors picketed his office and got on the evening news. Carolyn and Spencer have a lot to say about their special Little New York Street, and they want you to fall in love with it, too.

So take a time travel trip to a place that is teetering between the twin poles of its current timeless perfection and the arrogance of checked out politicians and their rapacious developer-donor pals. Can Angelenos fight back and Save Normandie together? With the Cranky Preservationist, his imp, Carolyn and Spencer, and YOU on the case, it’s very possible!

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!

The Cranky Preservationist in… What the Hell Happened to the Pantages Neon? (episode 22)

Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 22 finds Nathan in front of the Pantages Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, to confirm the terrible rumors that have been circulating on social media since Saturday, 2/29/2020.

It’s true! The magnificent neon blade sign, an integral part of the landmark and a streetscape beacon for nearly a century, is really gone. Since the first photo of the sad letters PANT being lowered to the sidewalk began circulating online, L.A. preservationists have desperately sought reliable information, while going through the classic first four stages of grief.

  • Stage 1: Denial. (This can’t be happening! Maybe it’s Photoshopped?)
  • Stage 2: Anger. (What idiot is responsible for this outrage? GR$#!@%)
  • Stage 3: Bargaining. (Bummer. Can our neon sign museum have the old sign?)
  • Stage 4: Depression. (I heard from a kid who talked to a guy on the crane that it’s going to be LED. I want to put my head in the oven.)

The last stage of grief is Acceptance, and Cranky Preservationists will NEVER accept the loss of a landmark as inevitable, or not worth yowling about. As with Felix the Cat, another beloved historic neon sign that was sneakily removed only to be replaced with a hideous LED copycat, what’s happened to the Pantages is an important cautionary tale.

Felix wasn’t a protected monument, because Antonio Villaraigosa kept that from happening as a favor to the politically connected property owner, Shammas Group. (Learn more about that at Save The Felix Neon SIgn Blog) But the Pantages Theatre is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #193, and its character-defining features are protected under the law. The historic sign should never have been removed on a Saturday afternoon, leaving citizens scrambling to figure out why.

When Nederlander, the owner of the Pantages, sought a permit to work on its sign in 2018, that permit request should have triggered an agenda item at the Cultural Heritage Commission, giving the Commissioners and community a chance to hear what Nederlander proposed, give feedback, raise concerns and decide on appropriate next steps. With a back office approval and no public notice, we’re left with nothing but rumors, and an ugly black splotch where a great sign lit the Hollywood night from Garbo’s time until Leap Day, 2020.

And that’s enough to make any preservationist cranky.

If you like these Cranky Preservationist videos, you’ll probably like Nathan’s R.I.P. Los Angeles blog, too, so check it out!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!